MINISTERS FROM across the UK have agreed to adopt a flexible approach to the ‘ten month rule‘ connected to the new single farm payment.

From 2005, to qualify for the SFP, land must be at the claimant‘s disposal for at least ten months in each year claimed.

UK ministers have decided to let farmers set their own start date, which can fall between Oct 1, 2004 and Apr 30, 2005.

The start date for producers who do not choose an alternative will be Feb 1, 2005.

Junior DEFRA minister Lord Whitty said the approach reflected the clear preference of farmers to have as much flexibility as could be allowed.

“This should help free the land transfer market which needed clarity on this aspect of the new payment scheme,” he said.

“We will review the operation of this system in the first year to see if further flexibility might be offered later.”

Mark Hudson, president of the Country Land and Business Association, welcomed the announcement as a single start date for all farmers would have caused many difficulties.

But he added that the time it had taken minister to make the decision had caused farmers anxiety and more information was still needed.

“We now call on DEFRA to act quickly to define precisely what is meant by ‘land at the farmer‘s disposal for at least 10 months‘ in the context of the many short term agreements common in UK farming.”